Safety Instrumented Systems / Intrinsic Safety

Economic Recovery: It's All About the Uptime!

All the Safety and Industrial Controls Security Systems in the World Can't Defeat Human Beings Intent on Screwing Things Up

Walt BoyesBy Walt Boyes, Editor in Chief

Ever since President Bill Clinton's "It's all about the economy, stupid!," we've been shoehorning complex ideas into one-liners. They resonate better, make sound bites for the evening news, and make the "elevator speech" easier. So, when we want people to listen about safety and security, we're going to have to have a one-liner to use there.

As I said in this space last month, we are doing abysmally poorly at creating functioning safety cultures in manufacturing, and we are still relentlessly and regularly injuring and killing people—and we are also losing great big gobs of money because a plant that goes boom is a plant that is not making product. I for one am having a very hard time understanding the disconnect that has been happening about the idea that a safe plant is a profitable plant. In fact, a safe plant is a more profitable plant.

A CEO recently said, "I don't want to hear from my plant. When I hear from my plant it means something is wrong, and I don't want things to go wrong. So I don't want to hear from my plants."

In fact, the CEO is right. His job is to measure and manage the business of which he's the chief executive. It's not his job to engineer or operate an olefins plant, for example, or a tomato sauce manufacturing line. CEOs who micromanage like that aren't usually around for very long.

Process safety and industrial control security—although they are vitally important to us and to the financial health of the corporation—are down in the weeds when viewed from the lofty heights of the boardroom, and they probably should be.

As I have been saying for years, process safety, industrial control security, physical security, alarm management and operations strategies are really all ways of looking at the same thing from different points of view. What this means is that you can't do any of those things in a vacuum without considering the effects of what you're doing on the others.

But, as we're finding out from incidents like Deepwater Horizon and the Stuxnet attacks, all the safety systems and all the industrial controls security systems in the world can't defeat human beings intent on screwing things up—whether they are doing it accidentally or on purpose.

Most people will agree that, to complement the systems we devise for plant control systems and equipment, we need the corresponding culture change in the attitudes and behaviors of the people involved. And there the matter stops. We don't seem to know how to get culture changed.

Levi Leathers of The Dow Chemical Company made an essential part of working at Dow the deep understanding that a safe plant is a more profitable plant, and that is the hook on which we need to hang safety and security practices and procedure. As Leathers found, it's great to be the boss. He was able to drive the development of a safety culture because he was the boss.

Here's the one-liner for your CEO. "Safety and security are all about uptime." Every CEO is vitally interested in sustainable manufacturing practices. CEOs are willing to spend big bucks on sustainability. The fact that your plant didn't blow up is a real sustainability issue. The fact that you can continue to make product is sustainability writ large. What a concept!

That's why we launched in February. Uptime improvement is a vital sustainable manufacturing practice, and safety and security both make key contributions to increasing and maintaining your plant's uptime.

So let's go talk to the CEO about improving uptime and profit from his plants—so that he won't have to hear from them.